“We’re probably not on the front page anymore,” snapped the Consul’s wife. She lit her second to last cigarette. “The gods of the news cycle have forgotten us.”
“Give me a drag,” the Consul said. A blunt attempt at common ground. They’d shared Kools on a bench outside the undergraduate library at Purdue University, a million years ago. When her blonde mane was still in a ponytail, and he wore a mustache.
She stepped through the shattered French doors into the debris-littered courtyard. Broken glass, tear-gas canisters, puddles. The inside of the Consulate was in no better condition after a two-day monsoon.
“No reason to smoke outside anymore,” he said, “You could drive a truck through that hole in my office.”
“Ah, but we should maintain basic protocol, Mr. Consul, while we wait for reinforcements,” she said, “Stiff upper lip and all that.” Exhausted, she rubbed her eyes, smearing mascara onto her cheeks.
He paced and aimed a soccer kick – left foot, right foot – at a few objects with the scuffed toe of his wingtips. “Are you ever going to forgive me?’ he asked.
The question provoked hilarity. She expelled a torrent of smoke. Her laughter sounded slightly inebriated.
“You’ve been drinking again,” said the Consul.
“Forgive you for what? You delivered as promised. A family adventure in an exotic part of the world. A chance to help build an emerging market. The capstone of your career. A wonderful opportunity for our son to experience a foreign culture. All for a mere two million dollar donation to the party’s war chest.”
Their tattooed, teenage son, Eddy, eavesdropped from a balcony window. While he simultaneously manipulated a gaming console. Dragons and ghosts and a court jester. Score one for dad. Score one for mom. Eddy knew their lines by heart.
But this fight was veering off script. Something raw in the tone of voice. The possibility of final exhaustion.
The Consul examined the shrapnel-scarred trunk of a banyan tree. He turned to his wife. “Listen, it was not an impulsive decision to come here. I did my homework. The report from the company’s investigator said it would be fine.”
She sneered, “Did it ever occur to you that your beloved board of directors might have an ulterior motive for dispatching you to this jungle swamp?”
He shook his head. “No. Never did.”
“When we get back to Indianapolis, why don’t you bring that up with them?” she suggested.
The Consul straightened his tie. “Mother and Father visited on their 50th anniversary trip. They stayed out at the beach resort for a month. Mother always talked about how much she loved the people and the picnic trips inland to see the ruins.”
More inebriated laughter. “That was when your company owned the entire frigging peninsula. That was before nationalization.”
“What I’m trying to say is – can’t just cut and run. You and Eddy need to get home and out of danger. I should probably stay on awhile, until a replacement arrives. Don’t want to be seen as a coward.”
“By some rival party hack sitting behind a desk in Washington?”
“It’s more than that. I want to set an example for our son.”
At least his wife felt moved enough to touch him. She grabbed his shoulders and shook hard.
“Hello, General Custer? Let me remind you that what your teenage son needs most is a physically present father!”
A flock of colorful birds with glaring, black eyes descended on the banyan tree and stared at the Consul and his wife. More birds landed on the balcony railing. She reached into her leather purse, worn tightly across her shoulder like a bandolier, and extracted a tube of cherry red lipstick. Applied thickly with fervent strokes.
The Consul hoped this was a good sign.
They both turned at the sound of Eddy announcing his intervention with heavy footsteps. He clumped down the broad staircase, kicking rocks aside. Striding into the shell-shocked courtyard, he took off his headphones and scratched at his chin. He peered around casually at the devastation with a grand insouciance. The blessings of adolescence.
“You don’t remember us spending the last two nights in the safe room?” demanded his mother.
“Yeah, but I was deep in a marathon session.”
His father explained, “Oh, nothing much, pal. Just a coup attempt at the Governor’s palace down the street.”
“Looks like a scene from World of Warcraft,” Eddy said.
The Consul mumbled, “Maybe I should learn how to play.”
Eddy shrugged and said, “Game over?”
“That’s one way of putting it,” his mother said.
Eddy reached into the front pocket of his baggy jeans and pulled out his phone. He squinted and poked at the shiny casing and announced with exaggerated relief, “Still have a signal!” Miraculously, yet again, his clowning made his parents laugh.
Ian Woollen lives and works in Bloomington, Indiana, USA. His day job is psychotherapy. He is trying to learn Spanish. Recent short fiction has appeared in The Smokelong Quarterly, Curbside Splendor and Foliate Oak. His latest novel, UNCLE ANTON’S ATOMIC BOMB (Coffeetown Press, 2014) was a finalist for the Balcones Fiction Prize.